Our trip has come full circle and we are back in the Spanish countryside where we first began our trip February a year ago. We are at Los Gázquez and things are going great. It’s beautiful here despite the drought that has browned the usually green landscape.
I’ll fill you in since the last Moroccan post. Austin left Morocco after her two-week visit, just before I (David) discovered a subterranean train station below the airport. After this startling discovery I had three more weeks in Berrechid before I planned to meet up with Austin again in Málaga, Spain on May 18. A mythical waterfall in northern Morocco had been beckoning me for months (the very one Austin, Anna and I had attempted to visit together but didn’t on account of group illness) and I made it my mission to see it before leaving the country. Anna and two other volunteers, Ali a Canadian expat who has spent the last year in Jordan perfecting her Arabic and Andrew from Philadelphia, all joined me on this mission. If grading our team I’d have given us three A’s and a D.
I was very sad to say goodbye to the friends I’d made at the British Language Academy in Berrechid. Especially Joel, whom I travelled with quite a bit. He was kind enough to wake up before 6AM to accompany the AAAD group to our hitchhiking spot. Harim, our host, offered us a lift to the toll road and the six of us all piled into his car and drove there in the early morning light. AAAD said an emotional goodbye to Joel and Harim and then watched in amazement and confusion as they pulled a U-turn on the interstate and drove by us giggling like children or crazy people, entered the on-ramp against the flow of traffic and disappeared into the sunrise.
Within moments a pickup truck stopped for us, the four of us piled into the bed and were off towards Tangier. The truck took us as far as Casablanca. As we stood with our thumbs out fishing for our next ride Anna decided it would help our cause to hold a sign indicating our destination. She climbed an embankment by the freeway and grabbed a piece of cardboard that was lying near a mound of stuff covered by a blanket. We wrote “Auto-stop Tangier” on the cardboard and held it out for passing motorists. Anna needed to pee so she climbed up the embankment again and scrambled over the blanket pile, accidentally kicking it on her way to a secluded squat spot. The three of us looked on in mild shock as the blanket pile started shifting and moving around. We then realized the blanket pile was in fact a sleeping person. Anna only became aware of this new information as she was climbing over the pile/person again to get down the embankment. She was horrified not only because she had urinated beside a sleeping man, but also for stealing a piece of his cardboard house and likely one of his few possessions. I will never forget her face: she looked so horrified and guilty as she stepped over the just-awakened homeless Moroccan man attempting to mind his own business on the side of the freeway.
We met the sweetest Moroccan man who picked us up on the way to Tetouan from Tangier, named Muhammed. He bought us sandwiches, took us to the Mediterranean coast and insisted on buying us ice cream and that we stay with his friend in our destination city of Chefchaouen. His English was not the best but he was very funny. He took us above the city of Tetouan to drink sweet Moroccan tea and play a board game similar to Sorry. The game is played on a board that is protected by what seems like a framed window pane.
We arrived to Chefchaouen and got a cab toward the mythical Akchour waterfall that had been calling my name since I arrived in Morocco. The drive there was green, lush and beautiful, with mountains rising gently all around us and huge rock faces in the distance. Our scenic cab ride culminated unexpectedly at what appeared like Times Square. The trailhead leading to the waterfall was packed and we inched our way along a narrow hiking trail amidst a teeming throng of Moroccans all on their way to the waterfall. Moroccans seem to have a different sense of personal space than I’m used to. Many also don’t seem fond of waiting their turn while hiking single file on a narrow path. As a result, much of that rigorous hike was full of getting shoved and cut in line as we treaded single tracks with a clifflike drop-off on one side and a steep rock wall on the other. I had anticipated this opportunity for months, dreaming of standing alone at a peaceful and secluded waterfall. I had imagined myself jumping from the cliffs into the serene pools below. The reality is there were thousands of people, many drumming and singing, entire families and the air was thick with barbecue smoke. My fantasies and expectations were far from reality. The visit ended up being more of a cultural experience, but less beautiful and magical than I’d hoped.
A couple of days later we met up with Muhammed again and said goodbye to Ali and Andrew who were headed back home to Berrechid. With Muhammed’s help and his gifts of food and jewelry, Anna and I caught a ferry to Tarifa, Spain just across the Strait of Gibraltar. We arrived at night and decided to sleep on the beach instead of paying for a hostel. After a few scouting efforts we decided on a spot below a little hilltop castle. We dug a shelter to get out of the strong, cold wind, settled in and tried unsuccessfully to get comfortable. We spent the whole night shivering and being sandblasted. While in Tarifa I met two German girls who mentioned that they had just volunteered at a remote guesthouse and artist residency in the forest. They looked at me like I was crazy when I guessed correctly that they were describing Los Gázquez (where Austin and I were headed in a week and where we had spent the first 3 months of our trip). Tarifa is a cute village and reminds me a lot of Santa Barbara, California where I grew up. The beaches, the architecture, the relaxed attitudes of the folks walking around. It was a nice few days there.
Anna and I hitchhiked to Málaga where we met up with Austin. It was a fun little reunion before Austin and I left to hitchhike toward Los Gázquez. We caught a few rides but only made it about 15 minutes out of the city. After an hour and half waiting in the sun by a freeway on-ramp we gave up, ran across the freeway to a bar and drowned our hitchhiking woes with a couple of beers. Austin asked some exiting patrons if we could get a ride with them back to Málaga but no one said “si” so we gave in and hired a taxi to the bus station where we then waited 8 hours until the next bus to Los Gázquez. We spent most of that time drinking coffee and napping in a park.
We have now been at Los Gázquez for the last two weeks and it’s great to be back. Two Australian volunteers were here and we really enjoyed spending time with them, going on walks and watching the HBO show Girls (to which we are now addicted). We were sad to see them go. It’s also been great to see Simon, Donna, Sesi and Sollie. We’ve been housesitting for them for the last few days. We are anticipating a visit from Austin’s father and his partner tomorrow and in the meantime are enjoying the quiet of this empty place in The Middle of Nowhere, Spain.